ANDREW DOYLE / TOULOUSE
Intermediate airliner is top priority after A380, with two "distinct markets" identified
Airbus is studying a new intermediate family of airliners that could form a broad replacement for its ageing A300/A310 product line and plug the gap between the fly-by-wire A320 and A330/A340 families.
While the studies are at an early stage, with a tentative entry-into-service date of around 2010, Airbus expects the replacement of the A300 and A310 to become its top priority after A380 development is completed later this decade.
Airbus has identified two "distinct markets" for a new family after a year of airline consultations, says Airbus executive vice-president programmes G‚rard Blanc.
The first requirement is for a short-range aircraft seating 200 passengers and above, and the second for a long-haul type seating a "minimum" of 250 passengers in a multi-class layout and capable of flying 13,000km (7,000nm).
"The main drivers were extremely clear - economic efficiency, family and environmental impact. Cross-crew qualification would be a must," says Blanc.
Any new 13,000km aircraft seating more than 250 people would appear to overlap with lower-end A330s, as the -200 variant nominally seats 253 and flies 12,300km.
Airbus has been grappling with A300/A310 replacement options, most recently proposing a further shrink of the A330 known as the-500, to be offered with short-, medium- and long-range operating weights. Despite attracting strong support from International Lease Finance the project was shelved because airlines regarded the relatively cheap-to-develop double-shrink option as uneconomical.
Airbus officials say any new intermediate family would almost certainly feature a twin-aisle fuselage cross section and make extensive use of weight-saving composites in primary structures to reduce operating costs. They also expect Boeing to move before 2010 with a replacement for its 757/767 family which, like the A300/A310, has experienced a slowdown in sales.
The A300 order backlog stands at 70, comprising 67 freighter versions for United Parcel Service and three passenger aircraft for Japan Air System. The A310 has only five outstanding commitments - a deferred order from Iraqi Airways.
Source: Flight International